See You In Church!

Strong stuff!!

Article: Why you need to be in a church this Sunday by Dan Phillips (original source here):

Howdy! While Pyro was dark during October, I went a bit nuts over at my place, posting about sixty-six times. A couple of them, I mean to re-work and share with anyone here who may not have dropped by there. Here’s the first, all re-worked, with extra coals added. Hey — this is Pyromaniacs!
“Everything old is new again,” and the saying certainly holds true when it comes to heresy, false doctrine and plain old unbiblical nuttiness.

For instance, back in the anti-establishment 60s and 70s, Christianoid kids would verbally trash the “organized church.” Didn’t need to go to a building, they’d say; they were the church. The real Bible scholars among them (relatively speaking) might yank 1 Corinthians 6:19 out of context and waterboard it a bit, until it said what they wanted to hear.

But no, Trevor, you’re not the church. You’re part of the church. The word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia) means “assembly,” and no, you’re really not an assembly. Doesn’t matter how many chins you have, you still aren’t an assembly.

What you are (you tell me) is a Christian. If you’re a Christian, you claim Jesus as your Lord.

Where’s your Lord today? He depicts Himself as walking among local assemblies (Revelation 1:12-13, 20), holding their pastors in His right hand (vv. 16, 20). What do you think the message is, there? Why is He not watching a lovely sunset, or fishing, or walking the dog, or riding a comet? Why among churches, among assemblies, cherishing their pastors?

Because that’s where Jesus is. That’s where His great heart is. Do you know better than He? Which one of you is “Lord,” again?

That’s the church, that local assembly of believers where pastors lead, the Word is preached, the ordinances are observed, and discipline is carried out. Christ loved it and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). He died for it.

But you won’t walk into one of them, and stay there? Which one of you is “Lord,” again?

Before He died, Jesus prayed for the church, all of it (John 17). Even (especially!) with what He was facing, the church was on His heart.

But you won’t attach yourself to one, to join it and work in it and pray for it? Which one of you is “Lord,” again?

Who is your pastor? Are you fool enough to say “Jesus is my pastor”? Nonsense. When He ascended, He gave pastors to the church (Ephesians 4:11). If He gave them, then He isn’t them. Which one is your pastor, your toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball pastor?

Your “Lord” charged pastors with the care of souls. That means Jesus — your Lord, so you say — thinks your soul needs watching over (Hebrews 13:7, 17). Which individual flesh and bones living pastor is watching over your soul, in person, individually?

If “none,” how is it that you decided you are smarter than Jesus? You know, Jesus. Your “Lord.” Which one of you is “Lord,” again?

Jesus, your Lord, also called you to know, show respect for, esteem highly in love, and submit to the leadership of your flesh-and-blood in-person pastor (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17). Which pastor is it that sees you come regularly to be discipled and led, and sees you loving and trusting God enough to yield him the love and submission to which God calls you?

If you bristle at the thought of embracing what Jesus calls you to — which one of you is “Lord,” again?

And if you fall into unrepentant sin, which assembly will even know of it, let alone discipline you? Jesus says you need that, too (Matthew 18:13-20). I don’t care what complex, high-sounding Dagwood sandwich of excuses you can slap together. If you say you don’t need to be in a local assembly, you say you’re smarter than Jesus, and are sufficient.

Fool!

And remember, that Jesus you say is your “Lord” said that the second most important thing in the world is to love your neighbor (Matthew 22:39). He moved Paul to tell you your fellow-church-member is your premier neighbor (Galatians 6:10). That’s where you take all that rich doctrine (Ephesians 1—3), and live it out in community (Ephesians 4—6). That’s where you do all those dozens of “one anothers.”

And if you tell yourself that your spouse or children are all the “one anothers” you need, God already said “No.” If you insist, you put your judgment over God’s.

Meaning that, whatever your mouth professes, your choices say you find God’s judgment deficient, and yours superior.

Meaning you’re a fool and a de facto blasphemer — whether you intend to be or not.

And you thereby bring harm on your spouse and children, by preaching and living a lie to them.

That’s for starters.

So, Jesus — your “Lord” — says you need to be in a local church. You say you don’t?

Which one to believe? You? Or Jesus? You? Or Jesus? Hmm.

Here’s the problem, I think. I’ve said a word thirteen times: Lord. The confession of Jesus as Lord is fundamental to Christian faith (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11). In repentant faith, we bow the knee to Christ’s Lordship. Continue reading

Sola Scriptura

Early formal Reformed attestation to Sola Scriptura (original source here):

The Genevan Confession was credited to John Calvin in 1536 by Beza who said Calvin wrote it as a formula of Christian doctrine suited to the church at Geneva. More recent scholarship attributes it to William Farel but in all likelihood Calvin did have considerable influence on the document. Indeed the records of the Senate at Geneva indicate that the confession was presented by both Farel and Calvin to the magistrates who received it and set it aside for more detailed examination.

I. The Word of God

First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as rule of faith and religion, without mixing with it any other thing which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than what is conveyed to us by the same Word without addition or diminution, acccording to the command of our Lord.

Sovereignty is Practical

Ask Pastor John (Piper): Is Knowing God’s Sovereignty Important to My Daily Life? (original source here)

Audio Transcript

As you know, Pastor John, new listeners are continually coming to the podcast every day, and many of them do not know what lies behind your answers to the questions people send in. For example, your view of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Bible, of the human condition, of the future. We thought it would be helpful now and then to include a podcast about the foundations of everything you say — those deepest convictions that shape the way you think and approach all the many questions about life that we get. So, Pastor John, you have said many times that you believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. That he finally and decisively controls everything, from the farthest galaxy to the smallest subatomic particle, including all the actions of human beings. I think what our listeners would like to hear is not only why you believe that, but mainly, how does this truth make a difference in our daily lives?

Well that’s right. That is precisely one of the foundational, pervasively influential convictions that I have behind everything I do and think. Let me give just one passage of Scripture as to why, and then four really practical ways this makes a difference in our lives.

Dead or Alive

I recently spoke to the new students at Bethlehem College and Seminary. I shared with them what difference it would make in their lives as students as they pursue rigorous studies if they believe in the sovereignty of God. So this is fresh on my front burner.

The text that gives a glimpse into why I believe this is from the book of James:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. (James 4:13–16)

So, there it is. You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live.” So I conclude that if the Lord doesn’t will for us to live, we die. If he does will, we live. The Lord is absolutely in control of everything that determines our life and our death.

We don’t live a second longer than he wills. We don’t die a second sooner than he wills. I believe this brings amazing stability and strength and courage and boldness and risk-taking into the Christian life if we believe that God is good and sovereign. Continue reading

The Role of a Shepherd

Article by Dr. R. C. Sproul: What Does It Mean to Be a Shepherd Over the Flock? (original source here)

When we examine life in the early Christian church, we see a remarkable phenomenon recorded for us in the book of Acts. In Acts 8:1 we read, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.”

A little bit later in the text we read these words: “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). We notice here that the people described as going everywhere preaching the Word were not the apostles. They were the laity of the first-century church. The apostles remained in Jerusalem and were not numbered among those who fled during the great persecution.

It is obvious from this text in Acts that one of the functions of the leaders of the early church was to equip the laity so that the ministry of the gospel could be effected through their labors. This was a precursor of what Luther had in mind in the sixteenth century when he advocated the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.” In that doctrine, Luther did not intend to obscure the distinction between laity and clergy but simply intended to point out that all Christians are to be involved in fulfilling the mission of the church.

At the same time, the New Testament makes it clear that there are those appointed to be leaders in the local church, and they are called by various names, but in the main we think of the pastor as the leader of the local church. The supreme paradigm, or model, for pastoral ministry is seen in the work of Jesus Himself.

One of the titles that the New Testament bestows upon Him is that of the Good Shepherd. The metaphor of the shepherd who cares for his flock becomes then the metaphor that defines the work of the local pastor. But what does it mean to be a shepherd over the flock?

In the first place, to be a shepherd over the flock of sheep means that it is the shepherd’s responsibility to lead the sheep. If anyone has observed the behavior of sheep who are left unguided, without the care and constant supervision of a shepherd, he is aware that sheep tend to move willy-nilly in all directions without any order to their movement. They are prone to getting lost, getting injured, and being left in a state of vulnerability unless they are cared for by a shepherd. So it is with the flock of Christ. It is the chief responsibility of the pastor, who is the shepherd, to lead the sheep.

One of the great tragedies in the church of the twenty-first century, particularly in Protestantism, is that while pastors are given the responsibility for leading their congregations, rarely do they receive a level of authority that matches that responsibility. For the most part, they are considered hirelings by the governing boards of the local church, whether it be a board of elders, deacons, or a consistory. So that the pastor, in being subordinate to the elder board, always has to keep one eye on his supervisors before he takes the reigns to lead the flock of Christ. This is one of the reasons why so many pastors have compromised the preaching of the gospel. They have been so fearful that they would lose their jobs by being bold in their preaching and passionate in their concern for the sheep that they keep one eye on the sheep and the other eye on those who hire and fire them. This is not the biblical model.

From Old Testament times beginning with Moses into the New Testament, those who were called to be elders and deacons were to be placed in a position to give aid and assistance to the shepherd, who was given the authority and responsibility to lead the flock. Some pastors are very effective in leading without that authority simply by the sheer force of their personality or the skills they have in leading.

Secondly, the shepherd is responsible to feed the sheep. This was set forth with great emphasis in Jesus’ discourse with Peter after the resurrection, when He inquired of Peter’s love for his Master. Jesus three times gave the mandate to Peter to feed His sheep — to tend the flock. Sheep without food soon grow thin, weak, emaciated, and sickly — ultimately perishing.

It is the first responsibility of the pastor to make sure that the sheep under his care are fed, nourished, and nurtured by the whole counsel of the Word of God. The New Testament rebukes the believer who is satisfied with milk and flees from serious learning of the things of God by avoiding the difficult digestion of the meat of the Word of God. But a good shepherd weans his sheep from the elemental principles of milk that is given to babes, and he gives them a diet that will cause them to become strong and fully equipped to do the ministry of the gospel. That feeding is given at the responsibility of the pastor.

Thirdly, the pastor is called to tend the flock. Following again John’s imagery from nature, when a sheep is wounded or becomes ill, it is to be noticed by the good shepherd, who takes that sheep from the flock and gives the special attention needed by the sheep to be restored to fullness of health. So it is that the good pastor is one who knows the aches, the pains, the joys, and the sorrows of each member of his congregation, so that he can tend to their needs and so that they aren’t overcome by physical maladies or by spiritual and psychological distress. He is there to encourage the sheep and to see to it that they grow to the fullness of maturity in the life of Christ, conforming to Christ’s very image.

It is the responsibility of the pastor to equip the sheep by teaching them and training them. There is a difference between teaching and training.

Teaching involves the imparting of information from one person to another.

Training requires more hands-on participation, showing someone how to master a particular skill.

It is not enough for a pastor simply to communicate information through expositional preaching or to explain the doctrines of the faith to his flock. He is also called to see to it that they are trained in certain skills necessary for growth in the faith. It is the pastor’s responsibility to teach his sheep how to pray, how to worship, how to evangelize, how to be engaged profitably in the mercy ministries of the church.

In all of these enterprises, the pastor is to mirror and reflect the ministry of Jesus Himself, who gave of Himself completely to those given to Him by the Father. So the pastor must see his congregation as a flock of sheep that is entrusted to him by the Father and by the Lord Jesus Christ, that he may help the saints become all that they can become in the ministry of the gospel.

The Cure for Discontentment

Adrien Segal (@AdrienSegal) lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Rick. They attend Bethlehem Baptist Church and work with Bethlehem College & Seminary. They have four sons and four prized grandchildren. In an article entitled, “Do You Wake Up Discontent?” she writes:

Is it possible to be content in all things?

What would it even mean to be content in all things? It seems like a hundred frustrations and inconveniences wage war in my mind every day to challenge contentment, and too often these things seem to be winning the war.

I have a stiff neck. That pillow has got to go.
What am I going to wear? I am tired of all my clothes.
The grout in our bathroom needs to be repaired.
Everyone wants something different for breakfast.
My husband wants to wear a shirt that I haven’t had time to iron.
Why does it have to be raining?

My mind is churning with discontent, and it’s not even 8:00 o’clock! We want every little detail under our control to bend to our expectations. Then, of course, there are the things beyond our control, life-changing trials that disrupt our lives: wayward children, illness, disability, loss of a loved one, loss of job, natural disaster, perhaps persecution, and in some places, starvation, war, terrorism.

Large and small things wield the power to destroy contentment.

Fragile and Unpredictable

Life in the world defies contentment. Perhaps we should not be surprised. Part of the problem is that we are looking to the world to provide comfort, and stability, and safety, and provision, and love, and hope. Given that we live such a fallen world, I wonder why we expect it to provide these things.

No one and nothing in the world can really promise us that we will have a good job, a nice home, plenty to eat, good friends, a loving family, good health, safety or really much of anything else. You can “play by the rules” by working hard, being responsible, and being kind to others, but there is really no promise that will pay off in the end. The world is fragile and unpredictable. An illness, a terrorist attack, a war, a divorce, and a million other things can happen at any time. In an instant, our world is shattered.

I wonder what the thousands of families in Houston who lost homes and all their possessions would think of my little morning list of complaints? Some even lost loved ones in a few short days because a hurricane suddenly roared through their neighborhood. Whatever expectations those families may have had the week before the hurricane are gone now. All of the sudden contentment means a bed, a hot meal, and donated clothing.

The Only Path to Contentment

God knows we live in this fallen, unpredictable world, so why does the Bible tell us to be content? How can we be content in such uncertain conditions? The truth is that the Bible never instructs us to find our contentment in the world. In fact, it tells us just the opposite.

Jesus says that “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Difficulty and tribulation will come. But Jesus says this that we may still have peace. How? Jesus has overcome the world. Jesus has overcome the world! It is done!

We are only ever able to find real and lasting contentment in this world if the foundation of this contentment is a deep and abiding trust in the fact that our real home, the one without suffering, is already secured. We own it. We are cosmic relief workers in this pain-filled world, for a moment in time, because God has determined that we can best serve others and glorify him here right now. Our life, and the ways it feels broken are an assignment from God for today.

How are we receiving what God has assigned to us today? Is our heart filled with desire to respond to what he has given us in a way that honors him? Even, and sometimes especially, in the hard things, we have a glorious opportunity to reflect peace and joy that might even cause others to ask for the reason for our hope. When Jesus promises peace, he means for us to enjoy it now. Of course it will be perfected in the age to come, but it cannot be shaken one bit by anything happening in this world — unless we permit it.

We may not have control over our circumstances, but we do have control over whether we find peace in them.

Whatever May Come

The apostle Paul understood this well, and he likely experienced far more tribulation and trial than you or I are ever will (2 Corinthians 11:23–27). He was punished with 39 lashes — multiple times. He was beaten with rods, stoned near death, and shipwrecked three times. He faced danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, and Gentiles — dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, and dangers at sea. He experienced sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold, exposure, and worse.

Yet in Philippians 4:11–13, Paul can say with assurance,

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Why can Paul say this? I do not know a single human being today who, faced with those circumstances, would be able to say he or she was “content.” Paul could say he was content because he knew without a doubt that when he was born again through Jesus Christ, he was born into a reality that transcends and conquers this world. Continue reading

The Pastor’s Purpose

Article “What’s the Purpose of … Pastors?” by Tim Challies (original source here)

The Bible knows nothing of lone Christians, of believers who are willfully independent from a local church. Rather, Christians gather in communities to worship together and serve one another. And as God commands his people to gather in community, he also commands them to be led—led by men called and qualified as pastors or elders (terms the Bible uses interchangeably). As we progress through a series of questions about things we as Christians often take for granted, we now come to the question of church leadership and ask, “What’s the purpose of pastors?”

Common Views of Pastors
In the church today we find a number of common views of the role and purpose of pastors. Unfortunately, some of these, though perhaps well-intentioned, are unbiblical. Here are two prominent views that both fall short of what the Bible teaches.

The first is the pastor as CEO. According to this view, the pastor’s primary purpose is to keep his organization (i.e., his church) running smoothly and growing steadily. Like the Chief Executive Officer within a corporation, he must apply sound business principles to his operation and will find success when he satisfies the desires of church attendees and experiences numerical growth. Those who hold this view claim that the “pastor as shepherd” view threatens to stunt the growth of a church and is impractical for the challenges of our day. Though shepherding care is good and necessary, it should be carried out by church members or ministry leaders so the pastors can focus on the challenges of leadership. Carey Nieuwhof explains, “Saying the model of pastor-as-CEO is bad for the church is like saying leadership really doesn’t matter. It’s also saying business should get all the best leaders. … If all we do is recruit pastors who love to care for people until they die, the church will die.” The task of the pastor, he says, is to lead, “to take people where they wouldn’t otherwise go.”

The second view is the pastor as priest. According to this view, the pastor is a kind of spiritual guru whose purpose is to take sole or primary responsibility for all of the church’s ministry. In that way, he serves as a kind of mediator between God and his people.

While few evangelicals would actually vocalize their adherence to this view, many tacitly hold it when they only go to their pastor for prayer and spiritual care. They may feel that the prayer and ministry of church members are somehow less effective than the prayer and ministry of their pastor. This view may also affect evangelism, as believers downplay their own ability to share the gospel and instead only focus on bringing unbelieving friends to church to hear the pastor, as if this is the only means through which God works.

Addressing the Error
While it is true that the wise pastor will learn practical strategies for leadership, and while it is true that all truth is God’s truth, the pastor as CEO view has dangerous implications for pastoral ministry. In Jeramie Rinne’s powerful critique, he insists that this view eventually and inevitably reinterprets the church through a business or organizational lens. It is true, of course, that churches “have business aspects. Churches often use financial officers and budgets, employees and personnel policies, facilities and insurance, workflow diagrams and goals, bylaws and committees.” All of these are within the scope of a healthy church. But “the problem arises when these businesslike elements become part of a comprehensive business model for the congregation that ignores biblical teaching. It might look something like this: pastor = president/CEO; staff = vice presidents; members = shareholders/loyal customers; visitors = potential customers.”

John Piper has also warned of the danger of this view, saying, “The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work. I have seen it often: the love of professionalism kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world.” This view teaches Christians to interpret and evaluate churches like businesses. It teaches them to evaluate pastors like they evaluate CEOs, so their performance becomes more important than their character. They fail to consider that of all the biblical qualifications for pastors, there is just one related to skill. All the others are related to his godly character.

Meanwhile, the pastor as priest model neglects a key doctrine recovered by the Protestant Reformers: the priesthood of all believers. While Luther and the other Reformers affirmed the office of the elder or pastor, they also emphasized that, through Christ, we are all ministers of the gospel and all have access to God. God continues to call men to pastoral ministry, but he also calls every Christian to minister to one another. This view minimizes the New Testament’s emphasis on the role of the pastor as the one who equips believers so they can carry out the work of the ministry. Ephesians 4:11-12 expresses this: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” The truth is, we are all ministers. Some are set apart to lead as pastors, but we are all called to minister.

What the Bible Says about Pastors
The Bible assures us that pastors exist to shepherd God’s people in local churches until Christ returns (1 Peter 5:1-5). The calling of the pastor is inextricably tied to the biblical metaphor of a shepherd tending to his flock of sheep. Alexander Strauch says, “If we want to understand Christian elders and their work, we must understand the biblical imagery of shepherding. As keepers of sheep, New Testament elders are to protect, feed, lead, and care for the flock’s many practical needs.”

Pastors shepherd God’s people by protecting them. One of a pastor’s foremost responsibilities is to protect his sheep, for just like sheep need the protection of a shepherd, God’s people need the protection of pastors. Paul’s farewell address makes it clear that this includes protection from false teachers: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). It also includes protection from their own sinfulness, which is why a pastor is called to a ministry of exhortation—of calling people away from behavior that is dishonoring to God and toward behavior that is pleasing to him (Titus 2:15). It is why pastors eventually confront ongoing, unrepentant sin and enforce church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20).

Pastors shepherd God’s people by feeding them. A shepherd not only protects his sheep from danger, but he also cares for them by feeding them. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” says David. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). The shepherd provides for the sustenance of his sheep. Similarly, pastors must feed God’s people with the spiritual food and drink they need—the Word of God. The pastor’s ministry is a Word-based ministry in which he uses the Word for preaching, teaching, and counseling. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

Pastors shepherd God’s people by leading them. Sheep are wandering creatures who are prone to meander out of safety and into all kinds of danger. They need a shepherd who will lead and guide them. In much the same way, Christians need pastors who will provide leadership. This is a specific form of leadership, though, that better equips them to fulfill the ministry to which God has called them. They carry out this leadership by setting an example in godly character, knowing that the pastor’s standard for character is really the standard for every Christian. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you … being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

Pastors shepherd God’s people by caring for them. Sheep that are ill or in distress rely upon their shepherd to tend to them. And when God’s people are distressed or uncertain, they rely on their pastors to bring comfort, instil wisdom, and offer prayer. “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). The pastor has a special function in caring for the people in his charge.

Conclusion
God’s church needs pastors. It needs pastors who will function not first as priests or CEOs, but as shepherds—shepherds who will protect God’s people; feed them spiritual food; lead them by modeling godly character; and care for them in life’s temptations, trials, and triumphs.

Ultimately, pastors exist to “care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

On Rome’s Claims

Chris Arnzen (host of the popular Iron Sharpens Iron podcast) writes:

It is truly tiresome to continue hearing over and over and over again the Roman Catholic regurgitation of the claim that they “gave us the Scriptures”, and therefore, we who are heirs of the Protestant Reformation have no right to tell them how those Scriptures are to be interpreted. While I totally reject that claim as being utterly false and historically inaccurate, even if one were to concede that Rome “gave us” the Scriptures, even this would not prove that Rome has not twisted and abandoned much vital truth that God breathed into its pages.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 3 verses 1 and 2, he informs us that the Jews were entrusted with the very Oracles of God. Does that truth, therefore, draw any Christian to the conclusion that the Jewish leaders of Paul’s day or today have exclusive rights to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures? Did not most of Israel’s leaders condemn Jesus Christ as a false messiah and cry out for His death? Do not even Roman Catholics agree that those very Jews entrusted with the Oracles of God developed unbiblical, rabbinical traditions that often trumped Biblical commands and precepts?

And isn’t it interesting that even though the Apostle Paul clearly reminds us that the Jews were entrusted with the Oracles of God, nowhere in their recorded history did they ever view the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical Books as a part of their Canon?

Even though their beloved celebration of Chanukah is derived from those books, and the 9-branched Chanukah Menorah has become a chief symbol for the religion of the Jews, they still have never elevated those books to Canonical status. It is fascinating to know that even Jerome, from whom the Church of Rome received the Latin Vulgate, personally opposed the inclusion of those books into the Old Testament Canon, and only relunctantly included them after receiving strict orders to do so from his pope. Rome’s apologists better start developing compelling arguments for the case they are trying to make if they desire to be taken seriously.

And in conclusion, how ironic is it that a church that claims it GAVE us the Scriptures prevented common people from possessing those Scriptures themselves for centuries, and that it took the courage of brave men to wrench those Scriptures out from Rome’s tight clutches, under the threat of a gruesomely tortuous death, to truly GIVE those Scriptures to those outside Rome’s clergy, translated into languages that could finally be read by multitudes in their own native tongue.

God is not a man that He should lie

Dr. James White writes:

I was just perusing some comments about the debate that took place in South Africa between Jonathan McLatchie and Yusuf Ismail on the Trinity in the Old Testament. Now I wasn’t able to watch it live, and might be able to slip it into the “riding queue” for next week (I do have at least one mega long ride planned), but I wanted to comment on this statement from Ijaz Ahmad, as it caught my attention:

There were quite a few fronts that the Christian side simply did not show up for, which had they been demonstrated would have been better than merely reading off as many quotes as was possible. Take for example the argument by Jonathan that Br. Yusuf’s use of Numbers 23:19 was incorrect because it was not about the character of God, but of man, foregoing that as a Trinitarian he believes that the Person of Christ was both man and God, therefore if it did speak of the Trinity (in this case the Trinitarian Person of Jesus), then he should have not denied that it referred to the character of God, unless Jonathan himself denies that the Person Of Jesus was not a divine actor with two natures. The interesting thing here is that if Jonathan does believe that God inspired the Old Testament (in whatever form), then shouldn’t God have known He would appear as a man at some point and therefore the verse’s relevance would apply then? This seems to have gone over Jonathan’s head altogether.

I have never found the use of Numbers 23:19 by Islamic apologists to be a weighty objection, but one founded more upon ignorance of the subject than upon deep reflection. Christians use this text in responding to Mormons frequently, and for good reason:
“He came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the leaders of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the LORD spoken?” Then he took up his discourse and said,
“Arise, O Balak, and hear;
Give ear to me, O son of Zippor!
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
“Behold, I have received a command to bless;
When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it.”
(Numbers 23:17–20 NASB)

The text comes from Balaam’s encounter with Balak and the matter of cursing or blessing the people of Israel. The issue is, obviously, the irreversibility of Yahweh’s promise to bless Israel as His covenant people in giving to them the Promised Land. Verse 19, the beginning of the word given to Balaam by Yahweh, states a basic reality: God is God. God is not human. God is the creator of humanity. This seems obvious, but Balak is undoubtedly outside the covenant community and in need of basic instruction in truth. The emphasis in pointing to the otherness of God’s nature in contrast to man is that God’s promises and blessings are not fickle, as is the case with man. Hence, immediately upon stating that God is not a man, we have “that He should lie.” Lying, being dishonest in His promises, is in the realm of fallen creatureliness; it is not something to be found in the realm of the Divine Creator. Using standard Hebrew parallelism (this is a poetic section), the same truth is restated, this time with the statement “that He should repent.”

The term used here, nacham, (the auto-correct on my computer attempted to change that to “nachos”), is deeper than the Western concept of “repent” as in “change one’s mind,” but often includes within it the idea of regret at one’s actions, or at least regret at the results of past events. In any case, the point is made plain by the rest of the verse—God has said He will bless Israel, and He will “do it” and will “make it good.” God’s revelation to Balaam cannot be changed no matter how much Balak may wish it to be so. God will not be bought off by the king’s money.

So, it is rather obvious, on any basic reading of the text in its context, that these words refer to God’s faithfulness to His promises, similar to the words of Psalm 12:6-7, for example. They are, in fact, relevant to Mormonism, which, in its orthodox historical teachings (given the nature of Mormon epistemology, all of this could change tomorrow), denies the ontological distinction between God and man. Hence, the foundation of the distinction upon which God’s word to Balaam rests, is denied in LDS theology. So, Numbers 23:19 is relevant to Mormonism, for in that religion, God and man are the same species, ontologically identical (being separated only by progression in time and status).

But the text is, rather obviously, irrelevant to the doctrine of the Trinity, and I will have to candidly admit that when I see Muslims using this text I know that their knowledge of the doctrine is, well, less than robust.

The historic doctrine of the Trinity does not teach that God’s nature is that of a man. God has eternally been God. God has never ceased to be God, and cannot by definition do so. In the Incarnation God did not cease to be God, God’s nature did not become human, etc. As I explained fairly clearly in the context of knowledgable Islamic objection in my debate with Abdullah Kunde in 2011, we believe the Second Person of the Trinity voluntarily took on a perfect human nature in the Incarnation. The Second Person did not cease being fully God, fully eternal, etc. There was no inter-mixture of the natures so that the divine became semi-human or the human became semi-divine. Two natures, one Person, “the Lord of glory” Jesus the Christ. The Word became flesh without ceasing to be the Word. The essential, eternal, unchanging nature of God did not change in the Incarnation anymore than when the Triune God brought the universe into existence. The Incarnation was a divine act in time.

The point being this: there is nothing in the statement “God is not a man” that is in any possibly logical sense relevant to the future action of the Second Person of the Trinity in taking on a human nature so as to accomplish the prophesied redemption of God’s people (Isaiah 9:5-6). God’s nature is that of God, not man—always has been, always will be. The Incarnation did not change that. Further, the point of the statement is focused upon the fallenness of man resulting in the unreliability of his promises and actions—which likewise would be irrelevant to the sinless Son when in the flesh. So any serious reflection upon the Trinity would reveal that the citation of Numbers 23:19 is errant on the part of Islamic apologists.

Now, I would likewise like to comment that I have been rather clear over the years in stating that I do not believe the Trinity is a specifically Old Testament revelation. While there are prophetic glimpses of this truth, I agree with Warfield that its primary revelation is found between the Testaments, specifically in the Incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit. Hence, the New Testament becomes the record of this historical revelation, not the actual ground of that revelation. That is, the NT reveals the Trinity simply because it is written in light of the historical action of the Triune God that preceded it. I have addressed this in my book, The Forgotten Trinity, and you can read an excellent discussion of these issues in Warfield’s classic work, available on line here.

Who Is the True Israel of God?

Article: Who Is the True Israel of God? by Rev. Nicholas T. Batzig (@Nick_Batzig), pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond Hill, Ga., and editor of reformation 21. He blogs at Feeding on Christ.

I recently read an article in which a noted Christian theologian was encouraging Christian churches to celebrate the Passover Seder. The author’s line of argumentation was not that God requires Christians to keep the Old Testament feasts and festivals but that by observing Passover, Christians can better remember the Jewish foundation of their faith as well as help foster improved Jewish-Christian relations. Strikingly absent from this article were any biblical references to Christ’s fulfillment of the old covenant feasts and festivals.

Yet the Apostle Paul, along with the other New Testament authors, in no uncertain terms explained that Jesus fulfilled each and every single shadowy and typical aspect of the old covenant ceremonial law (Col. 2:16–17), just as He came to fulfill all of the Old Testament promises and prophecies (2 Cor. 1:20). While Christians profess that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the preparatory and anticipatory aspects of the Old Testament, many lack the overarching framework by which the individual parts find their place in the grand narrative of God’s plan of redemption. In short, Jesus fulfills every preparatory and anticipatory aspect of the history of redemption in the Old Testament in general—and in the history of Israel in particular—because He is the true Israel of God. He recapitulates—summarizes and repeats—Israel’s history in His own experience and work in order to secure for His people the blessings promised to Abraham.

While there are many places in Scripture to which we might turn when seeking to understand the biblical teaching about Jesus as the true Israel of God, the gospel of Matthew develops it most fully. Matthew begins his account by focusing on Jesus as the son of David and the son of Abraham. By tracing Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham, Matthew explains to the covenant people that Jesus is the long-awaited and ultimate son of Abraham.

Abraham is, of course, the father of the Jews—whom God called, in the days of the exodus—“my son” (Ex. 4:23). When God called the Gentile Abram to Himself, gave him promises of redemption, and justified him only through his faith in the coming Redeemer, He turned him into the father of Israel. In order to properly understand Israel, we have to first understand Abraham. But in order to understand Abraham, we have to first understand God’s covenant plan of redemption—His eternal plan which He began to work out in time immediately after the fall of our first parents (Gen. 3:15).

In the Scriptures, Abraham stands as the covenant head of the people to whom God revealed Himself and His promise of redemption. The New Testament authors home in on the fact that God gave promises “to Abraham and to his seed.” The Apostle Paul goes a step further by suggesting that Christ is “the seed” (singular) to whom God was referring when He made His covenant promises with Abraham (Gal. 3:16 NIV). The point is clear: God gave promises to Abraham so that they might be passed down to Christ who would, in the fullness of time, fulfill them in His person and by His work.

We see this in the divine dialogue that the writer to the Hebrews sets out from the Old Testament Scriptures (e.g., Heb. 2:10–16). The covenant promises that God gave to Abraham and to David had to make their way to the incarnate Christ. When the writer cites Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 in Hebrews 1:5, he is helping us understand that God the Father was speaking to God the Son in the Old Testament about the covenant promises made to David.

The implications are large. In the Old Testament, everything that seems to be for the nation of Israel had to be passed down to Jesus, who then fulfilled the realities of the promises for us in His own person and work. This is how the Apostle Paul could say, “All the promises of God find their Yes in him [Christ]” (2 Cor. 1:20). It is also the reason why he could say of the Old Testament Scriptures: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).

When we read of God’s promises of restoration that He gave Israel through the Old Testament prophets, we must do so through the lens of the person and work of Christ. All of the judgment prophesied about the nation prepares us for the judgment that fell on Christ—the true Israel—for our sin. In His resurrection, Jesus secures the restoration that was promised so long before. When the Apostles appeal to Joel 2:28–32 in Acts 2:16–21 and Amos 9:11–12 in Acts 15:16–17, this is what they have in view. The fulfillment of those restoration promises occurs first in the risen or restored Son of Abraham, who will consummate them in a new heaven and earth.

What has been written only begins to scratch the surface of the way in which the Scriptures hold forth Jesus as the true Israel of God. In the forthcoming posts in this short series, we will consider New Testament expositions of pertinent Old Testament passages as well as the structured narrative that Matthew gives us to help us get our minds around the importance of this most marvelous—yet often overlooked—aspect of the history of redemption.

Don’t Be Caught without a Confession

Article by Dr. Michael Reeves. president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology in Oxford, England. (Original source here)

Christians have always written and cherished summaries of their beliefs. The Bible records the earliest of these confessions of faith (1 Tim 3:16). Then, the early post-Apostolic church produced definitive statements of essential Christian belief, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, still considered benchmarks of orthodoxy. In the centuries that have followed, Christians have continued to produce confessions: the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Thirty-Nine Articles (1562), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), and so on. The church has never been without a confession or creed.

THE RECIPE AND THE PUDDING

However, for all their defining importance in Christian history, confessions of faith have met with mixed reactions from Christians. While many believers have used confessions enthusiastically, others have claimed that confessions replace a vital relationship with God with a desiccated list of doctrine, replacing the Spirit with the letter, leaving only a husk of dead, dull orthodoxy. However, to understand confessions this way is to mistake the recipe for the pudding. Confessions, like recipes, are descriptions of the vital ingredients in the Christian life of faith, not to be confused with the reality itself. That does not mean the description is unimportant: different ingredients will make a different pudding. But, if you try to eat the recipe card rather than the pudding, you will be sadly disappointed.

There is a deeper, more sinister reason for our distrust of confessions. It started in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve refused to listen to God. Ever since then, mankind pretends that God has not spoken to us. If we admit that God has spoken, we must also admit that we knowingly disobey Him—an admission that we are not the lords and gods we daily pretend to be. Vagueness about what the Bible teaches and a lack of specificity in matters of theology maintain this Edenic error. Without confessions of faith, we are speculating in the dark, denying that God has spoken His revealing light into the world (John 1:1–5). Undisturbed by the harsh light of divine revelation, we are free to dwell in the shadows, fashioning idols to our hearts’ content, crafting a self-made religion out of comforting experiences, moralism, or whatever we choose.

History is replete with this tendency. Consider an example. In seventeenth-century England, a group of theologians called latitudinarians, tired of the never-ending theological debates that flowed from the Reformation, sought a Christianity shorn of most of its doctrine. Doctrine became a dirty word. For them, Christianity was essentially morality—the less doctrine it had, the more people could agree and unite. The problem was that this unity was built around the standards of morality rather than Christ.

In many ways, the latitudinarians were heralds of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment skepticism toward all doctrine epitomized by Edward Gibbon. In his monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon looks despairingly at the doctrinal disputes of the early post-Apostolic church as nothing but irrelevant bickering. For example, Gibbon dismisses the Arian controversy’s debate over whether Christ is truly God (homoousios) or merely an exalted creature (homoiousios) by saying, “The difference between the Homoousion and the Homoiousion is almost invisible to the nicest theological eye.”1 For Gibbon, it was an immaterial debate over the single letter i. Yet the argument was over far more essential matters. The controversy was about whether Christ is God, whether He is to be worshiped as God. That single i divided orthodoxy from heresy, with one side claiming Christ as Creator, while the other saw Him as nothing more than a created being. Gibbon’s blithe indifference to doctrine could just as easily argue that the difference between Christianity and Islam is merely one of numbers: one (Allah) or three (Father, Son, Spirit). We know, however, that doctrinal precision matters.

HAS GOD SPOKEN?

When natural, Edenic inclinations and mainstream Western intellectual history stand together against confessions, it is easy to see how a love for confessions has become an unthinkable offense. God’s revelation, objective truth rather than subjective sentiment, offends modern culture.

That is precisely the intent of a confession—it refuses to go along with the pretense that God has not spoken. A confession asserts that God has spoken clearly and specifically. Holding to a confession is an act of humility, admitting that we are not, as we would wish, the final arbiters of truth. Instead, in our confessions we proclaim that God has given us absolute, nonnegotiable truth. Confession is our obedient response to what God has spoken. It is an acknowledgment that God is God, and that we are not. Continue reading